Barber LeRoy Pederson has made a life out of cutting hair.
The Grand Forks resident has the distinction of being a barber for 67 years – longer than anyone else in North Dakota.
Pederson, who spent most of his career in Edinburg, N.D., was licensed on March 28, 1953. When he renewed his license this spring, he received in the mail a personal, handwritten note from Tona Stevenson, a member of the North Dakota Barber Board of Examiners, that said “You hold the current record for the longest running barber license. That’s amazing.”
Pederson's long service also drew praise from North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.
"North Dakota is a special place because of the people who live here, who care about their communities and neighbors, and LeRoy Pederson is a shining example, " Burgum said. "Like the red, white and blue-striped barber pole that spun outside his shop in Edinburg for decades, LeRoy has been a community fixture whose hard-earned reputation for skilled haircutting and friendly banter has drawn customers from across Walsh County and throughout northeastern North Dakota.
"Our state is a better place – and a more attractive one – because of his longtime service, and we’re happy to see him receive this well-deserved recognition, ” Burgum said.
Pederson, 86, was a barber in Edinburg, 68 miles northwest of Grand Forks, for about 60 years before retiring and selling his shop there in September 2017. Soon after Pederson moved to Grand Forks, he stopped in at Town and Country Barber Shop to visit owner Don Creeman. During their conservation, he mentioned that he was available if Creeman needed a barber to fill in from time to time.
When one of Creeman’s employees later got injured and was out of commission, he called Pederson.
“When I called, he said he had to think about it,” Creeman said.
A week later, Pederson accepted the offer. After working two days a week at Town and Country Barber Shop for the first couple of years, Pederson now works by appointment only. Several of his loyal clients from the North Dakota counties of northern Grand Forks, Walsh and Pembina countries drive to Grand Forks to get their hair cut and, for some, their mustaches trimmed by Pederson.
“Clients come from Cavalier, Grafton, Inskster, Crystal, Walhalla,” Pederson said.
On Wednesday, July 29, Jim Benjaminson made the 208-mile round trip trek from Walhalla to Grand Forks to get his monthly haircut from Pederson. When Pederson was in Edinburg, Benjaminson had a considerably shorter drive – 66 miles round trip. The extra miles are worth it for Benjaminson to get his hair cut by his longtime barber and friend.
“He’s cut my hair forever,” Benjaminson said.
Pederson credits prompt service as one of the reasons he maintains customers.
“Most barbers don’t work by appointment. That’s why I was successful in Edinburg. When they made their appointment, they knew I would be there,” Pederson said.
Whether by appointment or in-person, fewer people are going to barbers for haircuts. As a result, their numbers have dropped over the seven decades Pederson has been in the profession.
“When I went to Edinburg there were 18 barbers in Walsh County. Now there is one,” Pederson said. Meanwhile, when he worked in Grand Forks the first time, which was about 65 years ago, there were a total of about 70 barbers in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. Now there are fewer than 10, Pederson said.
In the early days, Pederson charged $1 a haircut. His goal was to get $10 per haircut before he retired. He now gets $17.
Not only was there not much profit on haircuts when Pederson was a young barber, it was challenging being in the profession at a time when men didn’t get their hair cut often. He said he survived the era of the 1960s and '70s because back then, he was among the younger barbers.
"All of the barbers around were retiring, and I picked up their customers,” he said.
Besides being the longest-serving barber in North Dakota, Pederson likely is one of the most accommodating, making house calls to the homes of Forks clients who no longer drive. Pederson also drives to Larimore, about 30 miles west of Grand Forks to cut the hair of a 99-year-old client. After he cuts the client’s hair, he sits down for a visit over cookies and coffee.
Visiting with customers is an important part of what has made barbering a rewarding career for Pederson.
“I don’t know that I ever had a bad day,” he said. “I’m a people person.”
Meanwhile, he likes the variety his job affords him. Though, it appears to the untrained eye that a haircut is a haircut is a haircut, that’s not so, Pederson said.
“Every haircut is different. You never do the same thing over,” he said.